Review: Yesterday

Meet the last man on earth who loves the Beatles.


Jack Malik (Himesh Patel, an alumnus of the never-ending British soap opera EastEnders) is a going-nowhere singer-songwriter in an English resort town. One day some friends give him a new guitar as a present. To try it out he plays one of his favorite songs: "Yesterday." His friends love it, and assume Jack wrote it. Jack is astounded: the Beatles wrote it, of course. It's a famously great song, he says. The friends snicker a bit. "Well, it's not Coldplay," one of them says.

Yesterday imagines a world in which the Beatles don't exist. Oh, they did exist, but that was before a mysterious space-time hiccup in which lights briefly went out all over the world – an event that Jack missed because he'd been hit by a bus and was unconscious at the time. Now he seems to be the only person who still remembers the fab Liverpudlians and their glorious music. Imagine the possibilities.

It's best not to interrogate this setup too closely. Director Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire, Steve Jobs) and screenwriter Richard Curtis (Love Actually, Four Weddings and a Funeral) are frankly confecting a sweet little fable here, and they would probably sigh and roll their eyes at any attempted nitpicking.

Jack is a good guy, but he's unable to resist the tremendous, but of course ethically indefensible, opportunity that's been laid before him. He's tentative at first. Trying out "Let It Be" on a living room piano for his parents, he discovers that even the Beatles' most celebrated songs don't command instant respect these days. His suburban mom and dad (Meera Syal and Sanjeev Bhaskar) are an awful audience, talking through his performance, fiddling with their phones, answering the doorbell. But Jack's "manager," Ellie Appleton (Lily James, of Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again), who has been his biggest/only fan since they were kids, is clearly prepared to support him to the end. (Jack, obviously an idiot, has never picked up on Ellie's winsome love vibe—which is actually the hardest part of this story to swallow.)

With Ellie enthusing and a young producer named Gavin (Alexander Arnold) arranging studio time, Jack records a song called "I Saw Her Standing There." It's pretty good. Next he plays something called "In My Life" on a local TV show, and shortly thereafter Ed Sheeran—the Ed Sheeran, by God—shows up at his door offering Jack a slot on his upcoming European tour. This might not have been a great idea, because out on the road Jack's storming rendition of "Back in the USSR" proves a hard act to follow. But Sheeran accepts this stoically: "I was always told someone would come along who'd be better than me," he says.

Over the course of nearly two hours, the movie sometimes feels like it's overrunning its premise; and when Kate McKinnon shows up as an uber-cynical record-company rep, her sour presence, so often bracing, seems out of place in such a sunny film. But the love story between Patel and James, while shamelessly manipulative, is also irresistible. And Patel, who does all his own singing, also does these famous songs justice (his rendition of "Help!," taken at punk-rock velocity, is a worthy footnote to the original track). Props must also be paid to Sheeran, who has a warm comic touch and is the very soul of self-deprecation. (His suggestion that Jack change the name of his song "Hey Jude" to "Hey Dude" is very nicely tossed off).

Yesterday is a movie that seeks only to make you feel warm and marshmallowy inside, and maybe love the Beatles a little bit more. Resistance is pointless.

NEXT: Brickbat: Walking on the Sand

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  1. You write great reviews good sir. I'll have to check you out on Sirius to see if you sound as intoxicating as you write.

  2. A good comedy is re-reading Quincy Jones’ interview with Vulture last year:

    “That they were the worst musicians in the world. They were no-playing motherfuckers. Paul was the worst bass player I ever heard. And Ringo? Don’t even talk about it.”

    “I used to date Ivanka, you know.Yes, sir. Twelve years ago. Tommy Hilfiger, who was working with my daughter KidadaA, said, “Ivanka wants to have dinner with you.” I said, “No problem. She’s a fine motherfucker.” She had the most beautiful legs I ever saw in my life.

    1. I remember reading that interview. Jones is a musical genius in his own right, at least as a producer, and to hear him basically trash everyone was disappointing and sad.

    2. Wait, Paul was a great bas playr and a great musician. He played all the instruments on his solo record, and recorded drum parts Ringo couldn't.
      He has some tremendously iconic bass lines. He didn't play Funk, though. This sounds as dumb as 13 year old me criticizing Funk or Country guitar players. I guarantee you Paul could play any bass on any of the big Motown records.

      1. Yup.

        Paul was far and away the most talented of the lot. I unashamedly will tell anybody The Beatles are the best band of the recorded music era. Anybody who disagrees is smoking crack.

        The sheer volume of quality tunes is insane. Personally, I feel that George Martin, the 5th Beatle, needs to be counted as being a member of the group... But even if one does that, a bunch of young lads and one old dude basically wrote more awesome shit than anybody else ever before or since. Not bad.

    3. She had the most beautiful legs I ever saw in my life.

      She does have some fine legs. They just shouldn't let her and Jared anywhere close to policy discussions.

  3. Kate McKinnon hasn't been funny in a decade. mho

    the trailer made me think "hilarious premise" but i figured it can't get deeper than that w/o holes

  4. Cool. I saw a commercial for this and was tentatively optimistic.

  5. So is Ed Sheeran's hair just not combable or what?

  6. I'm not sure what makes Jack's seizing his opportunity "ethically indefensible". If the Beatles effectively never existed in this universe, what makes their remembered oeuvre off-limits? If this was effectively told from anyone else's point of view -- A guy suddenly "remembering" completely original hit music that he perceives as having been the work of a group that his subconscious just made up -- How would it be wrong to take credit for introducing the world to it?

  7. Over the course of nearly two hours, the movie sometimes feels like it's overrunning its premise

    I felt like that just reading the review.

  8. The sad thing is, if this actually happened, I really don't think the Beatles would be nearly as big as they were. The style of music just isn't en vogue, and so at best they'd become a major cult band that some sub set of people listened to and lauded, but not the mega band they were in the real timeline. People just have shit taste in music today.

  9. She had the most beautiful legs I ever saw in my life.

    She does have some fine legs. They just shouldn’t let her and Jared anywhere close to policy discussions.

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